Archive | March 2014


My Anime Boston panel has come and gone, freeing me to write about movies regularly again.

This week’s coming attractions include my next Movie Review Roulette entry (The Princess Bride), an essay-version of my Anime Boston panel (about the visual language of Stuido Ghibli) and some new entries in an old feature I ran a while ago called “Fun With Opening Shots”.

Thanks for your patience!

The 86th Academy Awards: Surveying the damage

I had my best year ever as prediction percentage goes: 20/24, an astounding .833 batting average. Hall of fame, here I come!

Well, hold up, the Keepers of Clutch Picks say. Did he get the picks that mattered? Did he come through when the pressure was on? Well, let’s see the four I missed.

1. Best Short Film (Live Action)

My pick: Avant que de tout perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)

The winner: Helium

Come on, who doesn’t guess this category? I guarantee you that half the Oscar voters voting in the category don’t really give a damn. It’s not like they’re ignorant about this stuff.

2. Best Documentary Feature

My pick: The Square

The winner: 20 Feet From Stardom

All right, I should have thought about this category more. As I said when I made the predictions, the ceremony was two hours away and I was hungry and wanted to get some dinner. So I rushed this pick and ate some delicious homemade chicken noodle soup. It was really damn good, and worth the tradeoff for not thinking about this category long enough to realize that a movie about backup singers for legendary performers is the stuff Best Picture winners are made of, never mind Best Documentary winners.

3. Best Original Screenplay

My pick: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle

The winner: Spike Jonze, Her

No more excuses: I thought this one over and made the wrong pick. Her was on stable ground with wins at the Golden Globes and Writer’s Guild Awards.  American Hustle did win the BAFTA, and David O. Russell has been very present at the Oscars in recent years without taking any hardware of his own. He’s worked with pretty much the entire Academy, right? So they’d vote for him this time, right?

On the other hand, he’s the same guy once got into a fistfight with George Clooney over his, Russell’s, treatment of the crew of Three Kings. In that case, perhaps the surprise would be if he ever did win.

4. Best Picture

My pick: Gravity

The winner: 12 Years a Slave

I… just… oy.

How did I screw this one up? Everything was going so well. Yeah, I’d missed a couple, but they were understandable. I had gotten every single Gravity pick right to this point. I’d navigated the uncertain waters of Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay, calling their wins for 12 Years a Slave.

Short answer: I tried to make the bold prediction.

Never, ever try to make the bold prediction and expect it to pay off.

Granted, Gravity winning wouldn’t have been an upset at all. It won seven Oscars, including Best Director. But the consensus leading up to the Oscars was that this category would split with Best Director. It was obvious. With the Oscars, the obvious tends to happen. ‘

And more than that, this was an obvious result I was rooting for! 12 Years a Slave was my favorite film of 2013, with Gravity not far behind. A split would serve both films well, rewarding both Alfonso Cuaron and Steve McQueen for their remarkable achievements.

It was the easy pick.

And yet I scoffed. Picture/Director splits are never this easy to predict, right? Remember when everyone and their grandmas picked The King’s Speech to win Best Picture and The Social Network to win for direction? Remember when the thisclose race for Best Picture between The Departed, Babel, and Little Miss Sunshine ended up being a pretty unsuspenseful win for Best Director winner The Departed?

But I was wrong. This one was that easy to predict. On an Oscar night devoid of surprises, I tried to inject some suspense with this pick. It backfired.

And thus, I will always look at my .833 batting average wondering why it wasn’t .875. I didn’t come through in the clutch, when it mattered most, with the biggest award of them all.

Ah well. There’s always next year.

Other thoughts:

– Alfonso Cuaron is the first Latin American director to win best director, and 12 Years a Slave is the first film by a black director to win Best Picture. Yes, the response to these facts should be “good lord, about damn time Academy”, but seriously: representation in media is important. Hollywood should not pat itself on the back for finally acknowledging non-white filmmakers for once, but breakthroughs are breakthroughs and deserve to be celebrated when they happen.

– Pinoy pride: “Let it Go” co-writer Robert Lopez is Filipino-American, making him the first Pinoy Oscar winner. As a prior recipient of Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards, he also became just the twelfth member of EGOT. Here’s a Filipino fist bump, Robert.

Gravity won seven Oscars while losing out on Best Picture. That’s the most for a Best Picture loser since Star Wars won seven, but lost Best Picture of 1977 to Annie Hall. The record for wins while losing Best Picture belongs to Cabaret, which won 8 Oscars in 1972 but lost Best Picture to The Godfather.

Gravity is also the second straight film to win the most Oscars while falling short for Best Picture. Last year, Life of Pi topped all winners with four Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee. However, it lost Best Picture to Argo.

– This is the second straight year that Best Picture and Best Director have split. The last time this happened in back to back years was 1948 and 1949. In 1948, John Huston won best Director for directing Treasure of the Sierra Madre, while Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet won Best Picture. In 1949, Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the first of his two straight Best Director Oscars for A Letter to Three Wives, while All the Kings Men took Best Picture.

American Hustle went 0 for 10, joining True Grit, Gangs of New York, The Color Purple and The Turning Point as films to earn double-digit nominations only to leave the Oscars empty handed.

That’s all the trivia I can muster. Good Oscars, everyone. Good night.

Oscar predictions

Seriously, these are tonight?

Wait, 2 hours?

Good lord.

OK then, this is one tradition I can’t abandon, even if I tend not to be very good at these. Here are my crazy rushed Oscar predictions.

Picks in bolded italics

Best Picture


12 Years a Slave


American Hustle



The Wolf of Wall Street

Dallas Buyers Club

12 Years a Slave has been the frontrunner since its appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, where it won the coveted Audience Award. Since then, however, its footing has never felt secure. This is a pure hunch pick, which pretty much always backfire on me, but so it goes. Cuaron’s directing Oscar for Gravity seems like a sure thing. That alone makes me more confident in its Best Picture chances. Neat and tidy best director/best picture splits pretty much don’t happen when they’re predicted (See, the predicted The Kings Speech/Social Network and The Departed/either Little Miss Sunshine or Babel splits that didn’t happen). I want 12 Years a Slave to win, but I fear that it committed the sin of not giving the Academy what it wants. The Academy likes cathartic films that make you feel good about humanity. 12 Years a Slave is a better film for providing no catharsis, just demonstrative suffering. But that’s not the sort of film that tends to win Best Picture, not with a populist work of impeccable craftsmanship like Gravity in the mix.


Christian Bale, “American Hustle”

Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”

Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

I want to pick Ejiofor. If 12 Years a Slave does end up winning best picture without Steve McQueen winning best director, then I cannot fathom how someone could vote for it without voting for Ejiofor. His performance is the film’s heartbeat. But McConaughey has been a force this award’s season, as evidenced by his win in yesterday’s Independent Spirit Awards, which 12 Years a Slave otherwise swept. It’s his to lose.


Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”

Judi Dench, “Philomena”

Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

The accusations against Woody Allen by Dylan Farrow are sort of an elephant in the room here. I don’t think it’ll be enough to derail Blanchett, who has been the favorite since the film premiered and has never relinquished that status. Amy Adams might sneak an upset, what with this being her fifth nomination without a win so far. I think Bullock might snare her share of votes from Gravity fans. But Blanchett will likely win out in the end.

Supporting actor

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”

Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”

Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Jonah Hill, “Wolf of Wall Street”

Leto and McConaughey have been a joint awards force this year. Leto has won most everything, save the BAFTA where Dallas Buyers Club was surprisingly snubbed completely. Tellingly, Barkhad Abdi won there, and without Leto he’d be the unquestionable favorite for his movie-stealing performance in Captain Phillips. My renegade side wants to predict Abdi, but I can’t if I’m going to be honest with myself.

Supporting actress

Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”

Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”

June Squibb, “Nebraska”

This is between Nyong’o and Lawrence. Lawrence’s turn is exactly the sort of comedic performance that can and often does win the supporting categories. If she hadn’t won last year, I think she’d be the frontrunner. But I’m not just predicting Nyong’o because she is deserving of this award(and she is very deserving); she also has all the makings of a star that the Academy would likely feel remiss not to recognize now, as her star is rocketing upward. Lawrence’s wins at the Golden Globes and BAFTA give me pause with this prediction, but this is still Nyong’o’s to lose.


Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

Steve McQueen, “12 Years A Slave”

Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

He has won pretty much everything. Barring a 12 Years a Slave joint Best Picture/Best Director haul (which is more than possible) he’s the runaway favorite.

Writing, adapted screenplay

“Before Midnight”

“Captain Phillips”


“12 Years a Slave”

“The Wolf of Wall Street”

If 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture, it’s a lock here. If it doesn’t, it’s still the huge favorite.

Writing, original screenplay

“American Hustle”

“Blue Jasmine”

“Dallas Buyers Club”



I can’t imagine the Academy letting American Hustle go home emptyhanded. Her is an excellent bet as well, but Hustle has 10 nominations, and this is one where it has any sort of frontrunner potential.

Documentary feature

“The Act of Killing”

“Cutie and the Boxer”

“Dirty Wars”

“The Square”

“20 Feet From Stardom”

The Act of Killing is the critical darling here, which hasn’t always meant much in this category. The Square is timely and relevant to things we see in the day to day news. With no popular documentary to steal the spotlight like Searching for Sugar Man last year, The Square is my bet.

Foreign language film

“The Great Beauty”

“The Hunt”

“The Broken Circle Breakdown”

“The Missing Picture”


Critical darling + precursor success. My notes are going to be short from here on out, by the way, because I need to eat dinner.


“The Grandmaster”


“Inside Llewyn Davis”



Lubezki has won every award under the sun for his amazing work here. He gets the award he should have won three times already for The New World, Children of Men, and The Tree of Life.

Animated feature film

“The Croods”

“Despicable Me 2”


“Ernest & Celestine”

“The Wind Rises”

Disney’s first win in this category will go to the film that might have just kickstarted its next renaissance as a creative and popular force in animated movies.

Costume design

“American Hustle”

“The Grandmaster”

“The Great Gatsby”

“The Invisible Woman”

“12 Years a Slave”

Gaudy and period and Oscar precedent for Catherine Martin. I’m not even writing sentences anymore.

Makeup and hairstyling

“Dallas Buyers Club”

“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”

“The Lone Ranger”

Just because I imagine Oscar voters not being able to comprehend giving an Oscar to the other two.

Documentary short subject


“Facing Fear”

“Karma Has No Walls”

“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”

“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hill”

The rule with this category: Predict on the title, based on the amount of suffering or redemption conveyed. Seriously: without the subtitle of Music Saved My Life, I’d be going with Facing Fear, with more confidence than almost any other category.

Music, original score

John Williams, “The Book Thief”

Steven Price, “Gravity”

William Butler and Owen Pallett, “Her”

Alexandre Desplat, “Philomena”

Thomas Newman, “Saving Mr. Banks”

Her is a good bet if the Academy wants to show it has a bit of modernity in its taste, as they did when The Social Network’s dissonant electronic score won here. As it is, Gravity’s score is bombastic and memorable and, more importantly, used well.

Music, original song

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”

“Let it Go,” from “Frozen”

“The Moon Song,” from “Her”

“Oridinary Love,” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

I dare you to bet against this behemoth of a song that may have single-handedly revived Disney. Yes, that’s probably overstating it, but still: no one song is as memorably tied to the film it’s in as Let it Go (even though I think Happy and The Moon Song are better).


Production design

“American Hustle”


“The Great Gatsby”


“12 Years a Slave”

When in doubt, glitz.


Short film, animated


“Get a Horse!”

“Mr. Hublot”


“Room on the Broom”

It’s about a cute, giant robot dog. I refuse to bet against that.


Short film, live action

“Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)”

“Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)”


“Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)”

“The Voorman Problem”

My annual “Close my eyes and click at random” pick.


Film Editing

“American Hustle”

“Captain Phillips”

“Dallas Buyers Club”


“12 Years a Slave”

If Gravity sweeps, it wins here. I’m predicting a Gravity sweep.


Sound editing

“All Is Lost”

“Captain Phillips”


“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

“Lone Survivor”

Gravity sweep.


Sound mixing

“Captain Phillips”


“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

“Inside Llewyn Davis”

“Lone Survivor”



Visual effects


“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

“The Lone Ranger”

“Iron Man 3”

“Star Trek Into Darkness”

If Gravity bombs tonight, it still wins here. If it sweeps and doesn’t win here, then I just give up and promise to never subject you to my attempts at predicting these godforsaken awards again.

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